Thursday, 31 August 2017


In the first half of our Ace Chronicles, we looked at how the character was gradually formed during her first four stories. We saw her passion for justice tempered by a strong sense of mercy. Her hatred of insincerity and love for the Outsider. We also saw her wreck a lot of Daleks and Cybermen and set off some pretty cool explosions. 

Now that the character is, more or less, fully formed. Let's look at the mission the Doctor seems to be preparing her for as the Classic Series reaches its end....


Up until her creation, we've never seen a character that was crafted quite the way Ace was. Which is part of her appeal. She truly is unique among all the companions. Layers were added to her slowly but surely. At the same time, we could enjoy all her gimmicks. In some stories, the gimmicks were even pushed to the forefront and the character development was downplayed. But this was never taken too far.

Because of this, Ace was always appreciated on multiple levels. We enjoyed watching her grow emotionally as much as we loved seeing her blow things up. We would have been just fine with regular doses of action and character growth but Andrew Cartmel decides to take Ace even further. As Ace's personality becomes fully formed, the Doctor seems to be developing a plan for her. He is training Ace for something. Guiding her in certain directions so that she may complete some sort of masterplan for him. What is it, exactly? We never find out. The show ends before this particular arc can be completed. But it is still a great arc to watch. The Doctor becomes more brooding and manipulative as Ace grows in confidence and trusts her instincts more deeply.

Some would say that this training that the Doctor is putting Ace through doesn't truly begin til several episodes into Season 26. I prefer to believe that we see the first hints of it as Season 25 broadcasts its final story.


One of the strongest points I'm trying to make in this particular essay is that Ace goes through two crucial journeys during her travels. The first is an effort to "find herself". To, essentially, figure out what she's really about. In so doing, of course, we also learn who Ace is. Dragonfire sees her as a fairly two-dimensional character who's a lot of fun. We see only the merest hint in that particular story that there's more to her than that. Those hints are developed to their fullest extent in Season 25. We, then, embark upon Phase Two of Ace Development: the Doctor's Secret Mission for Her.

Many would argue that Greatest Show in the Galaxy is the final piece of the puzzle in fully fleshing out Ace's identity. We see the last of her Core Traits that I discussed so thoroughly in Part 1 rise to the surface. It's displayed right at the beginning of Episode One where the Junkmail Bot taunts her. Ace is the type of person who needs to face her fears and conquer them. It's for this reason that she decides to go to the Psychic Circus: she needs to defeat her fear of clowns.

Once on Segonax, several more of those Core Traits are put on display. Ace's love for the social outcast is shown off in the friendship she instantly makes with Mags. Part of the reason she finds clowns so creepy is because they represent that artificial happiness she hates so much. She shows great tenderness to Bellboy as he shares his misery with her. And, of course, she wants to right whatever wrong is going on within the Psychic Circus. All the core traits seem to have assembled in one story so that Ace is truly fleshed out. Greatest Show is the ultimate conclusion to the First Stage of Ace's Journey.  

But let's take a closer look at that new Core Trait revealed in the finale of Season 25. We see that Ace is the type of person who must always face her fears. But was she always like that? Only a story earlier, she is admitting to the Doctor that things are getting too scary for her and she wants out. The Doctor almost seems to manipulate her into staying in the battle. Could Ace's fear in Silver Nemesis have alerted the Doctor to a potential roadblock in his process of mentoring her into whatever it is he wants her to be?

There is just the vaguest hint at the end of Greatest Show in the Galaxy that the Doctor may have gone to Segonax on purpose. That he knew the Gods of Ragnarok had installed themselves' there and he was going to take them down. In much the same way that all the other stories of Season 25 were "pro-active". The Doctor didn't stumble into this adventure as he used to - he went there for a reason. I believe he had several motives for his Segonax visit. Yes, he needed to defeat the evil that dwelt there - but he also needed to present Ace with a fear for her to beat. The scene where he offers to just throw the Junkmail Bot away and continue on to somewhere else feels just as manipulative as the scene in Silver Nemesis where he suggests Ace return to the TARDIS. He knows this will goad Ace into doing the exact opposite of what he's suggesting.

I think Greatest Show in the Galaxy accomplishes two things at once with Ace's character. It finishes her slow development that we've been enjoying throughout the season. But it also embarks upon Arc B for Ace. It's the Doctor's first blatant attempt to tutor her and move her along on the Ultimate Plan that he seems to have for her. As I said at the end of Part 1 of this essay, this is a "hinge story" between the two character arcs for Ace. One story ends and a new one begins. The character is now moving in a new direction. But not before all the key points of her first journey are cemented in.

I firmly believe that Ace's tutelage begins here.


And, once more, we revert back to an Ace that is, for the most part, fun. Battlefield is a high adventure that makes full use of Ace's functionalism as a woman of action. One can easily see this as she blows up a fair amount of things throughout the story. Ace using a lot of pyrotechnics is usually a good sign that this will be more about her gimmicks than character development.

Still, Ace's personality isn't completely thrown to the wayside. We do see a Core Trait on display when she instantly befriends Shou Yuing - another outsider. And the nature of my beloved Ace Moments are also taking on a new tone. It's not just pure action that gets us to sometimes punch the air for her. Ace Moments are becoming more emotional this season. Battlefield, for me, possesses a few of these sequences. Ace rising out of the water with Excalibur is a sheer delight that is more about comedy than action. And when she stops herself in mid-sentence from saying a racist profanity and breaks Morgaine's spell by hugging Shou Yuing - that qualifies as an outstanding Ace Moment for me. We are thrilled with her for very different reasons than killing Cybermen and Daleks. And we love the way Morgaine remarks: "They breed their children strong, here...." 

Still, Battlefield is more about having a good time with Ace. Which was needed. A much heavier psychological journey is about to begin...


Many believe this is where Ace's tutelage truly begins. In some ways, they are right. We definitely get a sense that the Doctor is putting her through a series of adventures that will make her a stronger person. The next three stories that we see have very specific intents behind them.

What impresses me most about Ace's mentorship, is the way Sophie Aldred pulls back on the performance. The gimmicks and the street slang are still there - but they're not played up as much as they usually are. Ace seems to be taking things more seriously in these next few stories.

Right from the TARDIS' materialization in Ghostlight, Ace is informed she is being put through an initiative test. Rather than being told where and when they are, he's asking her to figure it out on her own. And it's definitely being played out like some sort of contest as Ace feels the Doctor should be penalized for bad parking.

As the story progresses, the Doctor is urging Ace more and more to figure out what is so special about the house they're visiting. He needs her to discern this to pass her first test. It would seem he is still alarmed by her panic attack in Silver Nemesis and needs her to truly conquer her fears. Overcoming creepy clowns in Greatest Show in the Galaxy was not enough. He needs to truly see that Ace will not be held back by the things that frighten her. It is interesting to note how he makes the same offer in Part Three that he did in Nemesis - he gives her the option to return to the TARDIS. Ace refuses. This seems to almost satisfy the Doctor. She's passed her first test.


And so, Ace embarks upon her second test. This one is probably the most difficult. Since her very first story, we've been hearing about Ace's estrangement with her mother. We might even call it one of her Core Traits (I was tempted to discuss in Part 1 of this essay but I was rambling on enough!). In Fenric, she must face her hatred of her mother and forgive her. Ghostlight was about Ace defeating her fear. Now, she must let go of past resentments.

How intentional this test was is difficult to tell. The Doctor goes to the British base in the 1940s that has the Ultima Machine to finally battle Fenric. He knew Ace was being used as a Wolf of Fenric - did he also know that her mother would be there and that she would be forced to forgive her? In this incarnation, he could be just that dubious. Whatever the case, Ace passes the test beautifully.

Fenric also shows off, quite clearly, the restraint Aldred is showing in the role now that she is being put through her tutelage. Ace gets several of her more notorious gimmicks in this story (cool stuff in the rucksack, blowing things up with Nitro 9). But she handles them differently, more calmly. Compare her exuberance as she blows up Arthur's ship in Battlefield versus how she acts with explosives, here. Ace is definitely transitioning and the actress playing her acknowledges it by tweaking her interpretation accordingly.

Of course, Curse of Fenric also has some of my favorite Ace Moments of all. Again, they're not action-based. There's a nice comedic moment where she comments on the way Millington's chess set is booby-trapped. And then there's some great dramatic moments. The way she cries out: "Mom! I'm sorry!" in front of the firing squad. Her choosing to seduce the guard to distract him is another moment I greatly relish. It really shows how much she's grown. She doesn't need to chuck explosives at her problems, anymore - or club them with a baseball bat. She can actually use social skills, now. She's far from being the "emotional cripple" the Doctor must call her to break her faith in him. She's a fully fleshed out three dimensional person.

Of course, her greatest Ace Moment is the last few minutes of the story. Where she truly passes her test and comes to terms with the fact that she loves her mom - regardless of who she is. Diving into the water and facing the undercurrents is a beautiful symbolism to the whole moment. One might even say this is the best scene a companion has ever gotten.


It's hard to determine, exactly, what is the test in this story. The Doctor keeps trying to get Ace to reconcile herself to her past. In this instance, he seems to be getting her to conquer her own sense of nostalgia. Nothing stays the same and your memories can be cherished but they can't dominate you. It's a simpler test. But then, after the brutality she faced in the last story - perhaps it's time to go a little easier on her.

There also seems to be a whole test of Ace trying to control the more savage elements of her character. To cage the beast she has within her. But this one probably wasn't intentional on the Doctor's part. He couldn't know they would end up on planet of the Cheetah People and that she would be contaminated. Nonetheless, Ace's refusal to fight at the most crucial of moments in Part Three certainly shows that she passes this challenge, too. It might even be one last good Ace Moment before the show must end.

And so, the Doctor and Ace stroll off for more adventures as we enjoy a voiced-over monologue. Sadly, we won't get to see any of them.


According to Andrew Cartmel, himself: Ace was being put through all this mentoring so that the Doctor could take her to Gallifrey during Season 27 and enter her into the Time Lord Academy. How exactly a human can become a Time Lord is not certain. But this could creep into another essay I have in mind.

The failure to complete this arc is painful, of course. Almost as difficult for me to process as the fact that the Sixth Doctor was cut off before his character growth reached its full potential. These are the true consequences of all the behind-the-scenes drama that went on in the late 80s: some great stories were never finished.

Somehow, Ace disappears from the Doctor's side during those "Wilderness Years". It does pop up, from time-to-time, in fan forums that the New Series should let us know in some way what became of her. Some have said she should get a special story of her own where the Doctor adventures with her for an episode or two. Others would just be happy if a little throwaway dialogue was inserted in a script to mention what she's doing, these days. But, more than likely, how Ace left will remain a mystery.

But the time she did spend in the TARDIS was certainly some of the best material the show ever produced.  And we can always treasure that....

Well, that's it for this Companion Retrospective. I did mention earlier that Ace just might be the best companion of them all. Did I mean it? Perhaps this might be my latest End-of-Year List!

Want to read my other Companion Retrospective in Clara Oswald? Here's Part One:

And Part Two:

Wednesday, 9 August 2017


My Companion Retrospective on Clara Oswald seemed somewhat well-received so I thought I would do another. This time, we're looking at the companion that was there as the Classic Series bowed out. Quite possibly, one of the best companions of them all. 



It is highly ironic that we never truly learn Ace's last name (the "McShane" is a rumor, at best and was never stated in any on-air dialogue). While her full name might be a mystery, there is probably no companion that we get to know better. So many layers of Ace are revealed before that fateful final walk together in Survival. I would even be bold enough to say that she is the most three-dimensional companion in the entire New or Classic Series.

She is also what I like to call a functional companion. It is the job of every companion to be the window that the audience sees through, To occasionally ask: "What is it, Doctor?" so that he can give a required info-dump now and again. But some companions prove to be a bit more useful than that. Some can actually skillfully carry certain elements of the plot so that the Doctor can sit back and not have to work quite so hard at everything. Companions that come from advanced societies such as Romana or Captain Jack could operate various types of alien technology that, normally, only the Doctor would be able to handle. Such characters could enable the Doctor to be stranded aboard the TARDIS while Crinothian spaceships needed to be repaired or let him go on a pleasant date with a Slytheen while extrapolators needed to be installed. Characters with such skill levels can fulfill greater functions in the story so I give them that functional companion nickname.

Characters capable of effectively handling action sequences are another type of functional companion. They take care of some of the more dangerous elements of an adventure and allow the Doctor to indulge in other activities when the fists start to swing. Most of the males that traveled with his first two incarnations were frequently required to get into all the scraps . The First and Second Doctors could just stick to the sciencey stuff and villain tell-offs while Ian, Steven, Ben or Jamie did the dirty work. It was only when the Doctor started messing about with Venuisan aiki-do that the men of action were no longer really required. Even Harry Sullivan being brought in during Season 11 wasn't all that badly needed for fighting, after all.

But a few seasons later, we were first introduced to the concept of a woman of action when Leela came on to the scene. The Doctor berated the savage for her reliance on violence - but she could also come in quite handy in a tight spot. Once more, she could fulfill a useful function in a story while the Doctor could go about dealing with mad computers, maniacal time travelers who were accepted as Chinese gods and other such things.

The next time we got to enjoy a companion of this nature, it was also a female character. Leela played with knives and Janis Thorns, but when Ace came along - it was Nitro 9 and the occasional baseball bat. I'll throw around even more superlatives by claiming that Ace was the ultimate "functional action companion" the show ever had. Leela probably had the highest death-count but Ace took out some of the most brutal of foes. Not only did she kick Cyberman and Dalek butt - but she even blew up a whole Cybership all on her own. Not too many companions can make those sort of boasts. It's usually only the Doctor who comes out of those sorts of scraps in one piece.

This is why I love Ace so much. She is responsible for some of the best action sequences the show has ever put together ("Ace Moments" - as I like to call them). But the actual development of the character was an equally high priority. We take an amazing emotional journey with her. But we also love it when blows stuff up with her Nitro 9 or kills the Doctor's mortal enemies with slingshots and baseball bats.


In some ways, Ace suffers a similar problem in her introduction that Clara has to deal with when we first meet her. It's more about gimmicks than character. With Clara, it was a plot gimmick. A mystery to solve that overtook the actual crafting of her personality in her earlier days. Whereas, in the case of Ace, the gimmick lies in what she does. The street slang. The attitude. The rucksack full of handy stuff. And, of course, the explosives. Her character traits seem to almost overwhelm the character, itself. An attempt is made in Dragonfire to give her a bit more dimension. That moment in Episode Three where she and Mel stop for a coffee break. Ace reveals her true name and discusses how she doesn't feel like she's meant to be on Earth. How she's meant to see the stars. It does give the character a bit more depth, yes. But the scene, itself, seems very forced. Almost like it was shoe-horned in. So it's only so effective in getting Ace to grow beyond her gimmicks.

But as the Doctor bids adieu to Mel and accepts Ace as the new companion (provided she goes by the rules, of course), we still feel a sense of promise. If nothing else, Ace does have a lot of cool gimmicks that we can enjoy in future stories. Really, it's hard not to like a companion who blows stuff up for fun. As the next season starts up, however, Ace's personality becomes far more interesting than any can of Nitro-Nine can hope to be.


Many fans like to speculate that a few years have passed between Seasons 24 and 25. In some ways, it makes sense. Both Ace and Doctor Seven seem to have grown a bit. I'm more inclined to believe that they've had an adventure that has caused them to mature quickly. You can read about that silly theory here:

It's towards the end of the essay if you're that curious.

Whatever happened, when the Doctor and Ace stroll out onto the streets of London in 1963, they are both different. Particularly the Doctor. He's a darker man. But Ace seems a bit more subdued, too. Her "gimmicks" are still in place but they don't seem quite as in-your-face as they were in Dragonfire. Because of this, we can really get to know her properly. As Season 25 progresses, we see who Ace is and what she stands for. These core traits slowly emerge as the stories of the season move on.


The early episodes of Remembrance of the Daleks show us a few of Ace's more superficial traits. Right from that first shot, we see a sort of "likeable arrogance" to her. She strolls through the streets of London in 1963 with the most obnoxious of anachronisms and she doesn't care. She wants to listen to 80s Rock on her ghetto blaster and the timelines don't mean a thing to her. This should make us, as an audience, find her a bit distasteful. But, instead, it amuses us. We like the way she thumbs her nose at the rules. We will see Ace misbehave like this over and over in the next two seasons. And we always enjoy it.

Another superficial trait that manifests itself quite quickly is how Ace understands her functionalism and accepts it. She's in charge of handling the rough stuff while the Doctor goes about with the intellectual affairs. She's no dummy, of course. She'll help solve the various puzzles and riddles that the plot will present. But she also knows she's meant to protect the Doctor from any potential dangers out there. "Who else is going to watch your back?!" - she protests in Episode Two of Remembrance when the Doctor won't allow her to tag along. That one line shows a clear understanding of her role. She represents the Doctor's muscle in the story. Years before Joss Whedon was being celebrated for crafting violent teenage girls that handled all the serious action in a story, Doctor Who was doing it with style and aplomb.

As the story evolves in the later episodes, Ace's most vital core character trait is prominently displayed. She has a very strong sense of right or wrong. Most companions join the Doctor to see the Universe - but Ace is with him, moreso, to help him in his crusades. It's important to her to be a part of the battle against evil. This is why she gets angry, over and over, when he doesn't fully explain to her what's going on. She can't make a difference with him if she's not totally aware of the situation. She has a strong drive to always do what's right. Most companions that have traveled with the Doctor have highly-developed morals. But this is even stronger in Ace. She fights for justice just as strongly as he does.

The relationship she has with Mike in this story throws that trait into sharp relief. When Ace, at last, learns that her love interest has been a bit of a double agent, Mike hopes that Ace's feelings for him can be exploited and he can use her to help cover for him. But Ace's integrity comes to the forefront. Whatever she may have felt for him is immediately kicked to the wayside. Mike is a double agent and she's furious about it. He was not one of the good guys, after all. Ace wants no part of him, now.

While Ace can be this tough and righteous woman, Remembrance also makes sure to show us that there is much room in her heart for compassion, too. A little girl that has been shooting lightning bolts around a livingroom in an attempt to kill her suddenly has a complete emotional breakdown. If Ace were truly the hard woman that she portrays, she would have just let that girl sob from a safe distance. But, instead, she immediately races forward and holds the girl in her arms. Her soft side is quick to come forward when needed. She will care as quickly as she will fight.

Integrity and mercy. These are Ace's two strongest points. We will see them over and over in all of her tales. But Remembrance of the Daleks establishes them firmly. Dragonfire may have even hinted at them - but Remembrance makes them clear.

Of course, we can't talk about this story without also pointing out that it is the first time we see one of those awesome Ace Moments: an action sequence so well-executed that we will, forever, punch the air anytime we watch it. That lovely moment in Coal Hill at the end of Episode Two where Ace starts taking out Daleks with her cosmic baseball bat is nothing short of splendiforous. "Who you calling small?!" is the most perfect of dialogue, too. Again, it shows us that "likeable arrogance". It's also, pretty much, the coolest thing you could say to a deadly universal conqueror just before you hand him his ass on a platter!


Happiness Patrol still remains a huge "vote-splitter" among fandom. Its camp sensibilities cause fans to absolutely love or hate it. But, whatever you feel about the story (I love it, by the way) it does continue to add layers to Ace's personality.

Within the first few minutes, we see another important trait emerge. Ace comments on the "lift music" that is playing all over the place. How it's too saccharine for her tastes. This would be another vital core trait that presents itself again and again throughout the next two seasons. Ace requires sincerity. The moment you start acting under any kind of false pretense - she begins to dislike you. Terra Alpha, with its overabundance of primal colors, bad lift music and laws on public happiness all become something she must take down. She can't stand the fakeness of it all.

Another core trait that surfaces prominently in this particular tale is Ace's love for the Outsider. During the heartfelt moment with Mel in Dragonfire, she confesses that she felt like she was meant to be in space. That she didn't fit anywhere on Earth. This seems to give her a strong sense of empathy for anyone who seems to be rejected by their peers.  Anytime Ace sees someone else who doesn't seem to fit in - she takes to them. She'll stick up for them and even defend them to the best of her abilities. We see this happen for the first time when she meets Susan Q - a member of the Happiness Patrol who seems incapable of staying happy. Ace can't resist forming a deep bond with her and the two become best of friends over a very short period of time. Standing together in solidarity and proud of the fact that they will not assimilate into the corrupt regime they are trapped in.

It helps, of course, that most fans of sci-fi feel like outsiders, too. So when we see someone who almost seems to favor the square peg, we can't help but fall in love with her all the more.


Season 25 progresses and we reach Silver Nemesis, next. After a few really strong stories that develop Ace well, we revert back to Dragonfire for a bit. It's more about gimmicks than character. But that's okay, in some ways. Ace is, by this point, almost fully-formed. We definitely see the complexity of her and understand most of her layers. There's not much more to add to her - so getting back to basics with Ace is actually welcome.

For a bit, Ace is just the tough-talking street kid with some legitimate firepower to back her up that we saw when we first met her. In this state we are able to really focus on some awesome "Ace moments". Blowing up the Cyber-shuttle with her rucksack is one of them. But it's pretty quick. Taking out a bunch of Cybermen with gold coins and a slingshot is a longer much more enjoyable moment. Yes, the Cybermen seem almost too vulnerable to gold, now. Yes, their aim also seems pretty awful. But this is still a great sequence. Particularly as she makes her way up to the gantry. That scene is, pretty much, Ace at her absolute coolest. As she stands in the cross-hairs of three Cybermen with only one gold coin left, we can't help but marvel at how much of a bad-ass she is. Faced with an almost inevitable death, she simply yells back: "Who will live and who gets it?!" . Ace's bravery has never shone brighter. The fact that she comes up with a clever way out of the whole thing gets us to love her all the more.

And yet, like Dragonfire, Silver Nemesis still makes sure to give us a bit of vulnerability. As they stroll through the forest in Episode Two, Ace suddenly feels overwhelmed. Ever-so-briefly, she admits to the Doctor that she wants to back out of all this. The Doctor seems to be almost manipulating her as he offers to let her return to the TARDIS. Like he knows that the offer will re-galvanize her courage. It works as Ace suddenly remembers her place in the story. As always, she needs to guard the Doctor's back. Considering she will soon be placed in the deadliest of situations and still manage to fight her way out, it's nice to actually see that she gets a bit scared of all the huge things that, sometimes, go on around her. Unlike the coffee break in Dragonfire, this scene is quite effective.


As Silver Nemesis concludes, we are now quite familiar with Ace. There are a few nuances that still need to be brought out, but it's also time to do something more with character. Many claim that the Tutelage of Ace is an arch that only gets embarked upon in Season 26. I say that Greatest Show in the Galaxy is the actual starting point. If anything, it acts as the "hinge" for the turn Ace is about to take in her life. It still fleshes out one or two more vital core traits but it also shows the Doctor beginning to very succinctly mold her into something.

We'll take a better look at that in the second half of this essay

And so, the Celebration of Ace will continue in a later installment. This half was meant to cover the development of the character. But now that she's just-about fully formed, we'll focus in on the very specific mission she seems to be on throughout the rest of the show. The Tutelage of Ace shall be our focus in Part Two....